Long launches public consultation on the minimum age of criminal responsibility

Date published: 03 October 2022

Justice Minister, Naomi Long, has today launched a public consultation to seek views on the minimum age of criminal responsibility – or MACR – in Northern Ireland. This is the age from which a child can be held criminally responsible for their actions, and can subsequently face the full criminal justice process including arrest, prosecution, trial and sentencing.

justice minister Naomi Long pictured

The consultation will ask the public to make a choice between maintaining the current MACR, which is 10 years of age, or increasing it to allow Northern Ireland to meet international children’s standards. 

In launching the consultation, Minister Long said: “I do not believe that criminalising children as young as 10 is in their best interests, and this view is shared by many.  That is why, when I published the Strategic Framework for Youth Justice earlier this year, I committed to consulting the public on the issue, with the aim of increasing the minimum age of criminal responsibility in Northern Ireland.

I know that the subject is an emotive and often controversial one, and divides opinion.  However, our MACR is currently the lowest in Europe and substantially lower than 14 years, which the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child considers to be the very youngest age that a child should be held criminally liable.  That is why I have long advocated for an increase in MACR, because I believe such young children should not be drawn into the youth justice system, particularly when research shows that early contact with the justice system often has a negative long-term impact on their lives.”

Not only would increasing MACR bring Northern Ireland into line with international standards and best practice, but it would also reinforce the Department’s commitment to delivering on the recommendations from the 2011 Youth Justice Review, as well as fulfilling the commitment in the Strategic Framework for Youth Justice. 

The views of the public will be instrumental in determining whether there is sufficient support to help the Department to secure an increase in MACR.  Further information is available at the consultation section of this website or alternatively on the NIDirect website.

The Minister added: “In supporting an increase in MACR, I still believe that children should take responsibility for their actions. However, it is in their best interests, as well as those of victims and communities, if we work with these children to find the root cause of their behaviour and provide the support they require to turn their lives around.”  

Notes to editors: 

  1. The consultation will run for 12 weeks from 3 October to 23 December 2022.
  2. For media enquiries contact the Department of Justice Press Office via Email
  3. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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